Category Archives: F-35

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Jets Involved In First Operational Deployment Near the Horn of Africa Flying With External Gun Pod

Photos show Marines F-35B aircraft carrying the external gun pod during exercise off the coast of Djibouti.

For the last two weeks, U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers”, deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, have undertaken the type’s first operational deployment in international waters off the coast of Djibouti.

Beginning on Sept. 8, the aircraft have taken part in a Theater Amphiobious Combat Rehearsal (TACR) operating from the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility near Horn of Africa along with the rest of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, that includes the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47).

The F-35B were involved in CAS (Close Air Support) missions, supporting Marines on the ground during drills in the military ranges in Djibouti that, according to USNI News, involved Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (Reinforced)’s complement of CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, UH-1 Huey utility helicopters and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters

“The addition of the F-35 to the ARG is a very significant enabler for me and for my team. It increases battlespace awareness with data fusion and the ability to share information with the ships and the ships’ combat control system. So it’s really an extension of our sensors, and it also brings to the table a greater increased lethality than what we had with previous generation aircraft,” Capt. Gerald Olin, Amphibious Squadron 1 commander and Essex ARG/MEU commodore, told USNI News.

The STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the stealthy F-35 Lightning II is a key player to the amphibious force: it brings advanced ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) capabilities where is needed as part of CSO (Crisis Support Operations) that involve the commitment of a quick reation force to respond to tensions in theather to a major conflict that requires the whole capability of the MAGTFs (Marine Air-Ground Task Forces).

Interestingly, photos of the aircraft performing air-to-air refueling from U.S. Air Force KC-135s have been released by the DoD. The shots clearly show the F-35B carrying the GAU-22 25mm gun pod that was test fired for the first time in flight in 2017.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, flies alongside the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron after receiving in flight fuel during an aerial refueling mission near the Horn of Africa, Sept. 15, 2018. The F-35B combines next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory, providing the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) significantly improved capability to approach missions from a position of strength. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

The new General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod uses a unique four-barrel configuration that was developed from the highly successful five-barrel, 25mm GAU-12/U gun also built by General Dynamics. Noteworthy, although it was designed with LO (Low Observability) characteristics, the external pod degrades the F-35’s radar cross section making the 5th generation aircraft more visibile to radars. Still, this should be acceptable (as it is for the non-stealthy AV-8B Harrier jets they will replace) for the scenarios where the U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs will be called to carry out CAS missions (read here about the so-called “third day of war” configuration).

The GAU-22A Gun Pod. It has a reported rate of fire of “up to 3,300 rounds per minute”. (Image credit: LM)

The 2018 deployment follows the relocation of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017. Since then, the F-35B have started operating in the region, taking part in local drills as well as some routine “shows of force” near the Korean Peninsula: for instance, on Aug. 30, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers from Guam onf a 10-hour mission that brought the “package” over waters near Kyushu, Japan, then across the Korean Peninsula. Interestingly, during that mission, the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors used to make LO (Low Observable) aircraft clearly visible on radars and also dropped their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) on Pilsung firing range. On a subsequent mission on Sept. 18, the aircraft took part in a “sequenced bilateral show of force” over the Korean peninsula carrying “live” AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles in the internal weapons bays.

“Don’t Touch!”: Spectators Gently “Pet” Italian F-35A Lightning II at Belgian Air Show

Spectators Are Not Allowed to Touch F-35 Jets, But Some in Belgium Got a Lucky Chance.

If you are among the millions of people to see a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter at an airshow since its first public appearance at Joint Base Andrews in the U.S. in 2011, you know there is always tight security surrounding the airplane. A rope cordon is normally patrolled by armed security guards to keep people at a distance from the exotic fifth-generation fighter.

But spectators at the 2018 Belgian Air Force Days airshow at Kleine-Brogel Air Base in northeastern Belgium got a treat when a new Italian F-35A belonging to the 13th Gruppo (Squadron) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force), MM7359/32-09, was being towed so close to the crowd line that the right wing actually protruded over the orange spectator fencing. This gave some quick-thinking spectators the opportunity to briefly and gently touch the aircraft to see what it felt like and be able to say they were among the first civilians at an airshow to touch the mysterious, stealthy plane.

Aviation photographer Stewart Jack was in the right place at the right time and caught a quick video of spectators reaching up and gently touching the plane. From the behavior of the people seen in Stewart’s video, it seems like they have an understanding of how special the moment was.

“The aircraft was being towed in to the static display for the Airshow on Saturday morning. We were all queuing up to gain access to the Friends of the Air Force section when it got just a bit too close for everyone waiting. The child on his dad’s shoulders was over the moon that he managed to get a glimpse of it so close up, let along touch it,” Stewart Jack told the Aviationist.com in an interview on Facebook about his video.

The Italian F-35 arriving at Kleine Brogel on Sept. 7. It was the first time the Lightning II aircraft visited Belgium. Image credit: Alessandro Fucito.

Each person along the taxiway touches the F-35A gently and only for a moment, as if to just be able to say they did, or feel some connection with the sensational aircraft. For aircraft enthusiasts and plane spotters around the world it is the equivalent of shaking hands with your favorite pop music or movie star along the runway at a big event.

Normal security for the F-35 has included fencing and guards along with covered intakes to prevent photos directly into the intakes. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.)

We’ve asked several military security personnel and public affairs representatives at airshows why security around the F-35 is so tight.

“As part of its new technology the plane has sensors and equipment on the outside that shouldn’t be handled unless you are trained [how to do it] and have a reason,” One F-35A maintenance airman told us at Nellis AFB last year when asked why there is such tight security around the plane.

Moreover, the LO (Low Observability) coating is one of the aircraft’s most delicate components and for this reason any “contact” with the haze paint of the stealth aircraft by unauthorized people should be avoided, in order to prevent scratches and damages.

The Italian Air Force F-35A in static display at Belgian Air Force Days. (Image credit: Alessandro Fucito).

“Please do not shoot photos directly into the intake or under the aircraft,” one armed Air Force Security Policeman told us recently at an F-35A static display at Selfridge ANGB in Michigan.

“We just don’t need people close to the airplane. It’s a security risk and people get better pictures outside the rope anyway,” a media representative for the U.S. Air Force told us recently at the Thunder Over Michigan airshow where two USAF F-35A Lightning IIs were on static display. Even when media is allowed inside the rope cordon for an interview they are briefed to not approach too close to the plane or attempt to touch it as we learned while taping an F-35A pilot interview two weeks ago in Michigan.

Normally the F-35 is moved well away from crowds, especially when taxiing as with this aircraft last year at Nellis AFB. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.)

Security for the newest and most advanced combat aircraft in the world is clearly the primary reason why spectators are not allowed to touch and walk very close to F-35s at airshows. And like anything that is forbidden or somehow rare and exotic, this has only made people more interested in getting close to the jet. But in reality, the barriers around the aircraft and the prohibition on touching it are as much about common sense with an advanced and expensive piece of equipment as it is about security. But for the people Stewart Jack managed to catch on video touching the beautiful aircraft with a sense of awe, it was certainly a unique moment.

Spectators at Kleine-Brogel Air Base get a rare and not entirely authorized chance to see what an F-35A actually feels like. (Photo: Stewart Jack)

Meet the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s First Female F-35A Lightning II Pilot

USAF Reserve Col. Regina Sabric Is Also Commander of 419th Fighter Wing.

Colonel Regina Sabric, callsign “Torch”, of Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania has become the first female Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Col. Sabric is also commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB in Utah, a unit she assumed command of in April of 2018.

Col. Sabric brings extensive tactical, combat and even special operations aviation experience to the F-35A and the 419th Wing having well over 2,500 hours flying experience across 10 different aircraft in 22 years. Sabric has flown the T-34, T-39, T-1 and T-37 trainers. She also flew the T-38 Talon in an aggressor simulation role and the AT-38. She has experience in the F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft, including as an instructor in the F-16. Her perspective as a tactical combat pilot in the evolving aerial battlefield includes time flying the MQ-9 Predator remotely piloted aircraft and the secretive C-146 special operations transport when she served as commander of the 919th Special Operations Group. Sabric also served as Chief, Combat Air Forces Requirements for the Air Force Reserve at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Her operational experience includes Operations Allied Force and Enduring Freedom, and several deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Noble Eagle, the combined U.S. and Canadian homeland security mission flown over the continental U.S. to provide security against terrorist threats to key infrastructure targets.

Sabric is a 1995 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering. She also earned a Master’s Degree in National Security Studies from American Military University.

tps://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/First_Female_Reserve_F35_10.jpg”> Col. Regina Sabric with an F-35A Lighting II of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah. (Photo: USAF Photo by Todd Cromar.)

[/caption]In her role as commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB she is in command of 1,200 Reserve Citizen Airmen who train in F-35A Joint Strike Fighter operations, maintenance and mission support in addition to a medical squadron that supports the unit. The 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB is the only U.S. Air Force Reserve F-35A unit.

“My family can tell you I wanted to be a fighter pilot forever. I’ve always been fascinated by air and space.” Sabric told the Air Force Reserve Command media. “My dad was a private pilot, so he took me to an airshow when I was a little girl, and I remember looking up at those planes and being amazed. Ever since then I knew I was going to be a pilot.”

As a teenager, Regina Sabric went to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, an immersive educational experience for aspiring young women and men. She went on to earn a private pilot’s license during college.

Sabric regards her extensive education, career and experience in aviation as an advantage, “I don’t have a typical flying career. I’ve had the opportunity to bounce around with different aircraft and mission sets. I think it’s made me a better pilot because I’ve had the opportunity to experience so much outside the fighter world.”

Given Col. Sabric’s eclectic background in aviation and her command of the 419th Wing along with her qualification in the F-35A, she joins the most elite level of combat pilots in the world. There are only three women flying the F-35A Lightning II in the active duty Air Force. Col. Sabric is the first and only woman currently in the Air Force Reserve flying the F-35A. She is reserved about her experience though, especially in the F-35A.

“I’m still new in the airplane. Every sortie you learn something new, so as I continue to fly I’ll continue to learn. What the F-35A brings to the fight now, it’s lightyears beyond fourth-generation aircraft.”

U.S. Navy Reports F-35C Lightning II and F/A-18F Damaged During Inflight Refueling Accident

Both Aircraft Landed Safely, but “Class A” Damage Sustained by F-35C in Accident.

A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II was damaged during a midair refueling exercise with an F/A-18F Super Hornet over the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday according to a statement released by the Naval Air Forces Atlantic spokesman Commander Dave Hecht to United States Naval Institute News (USNI).

The F-35C, the naval variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, was flying from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). The F-35C involved in the accident returned to the aircraft carrier and landed safely aboard ship following the accident. The F/A-18F Super Hornet landed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia following the accident.

The report in USNI indicated the F-35C Lightning II was from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the “Rough Raiders” on board the USS Lincoln. The F/A-18F Super Hornet involved in the accident was from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103, the “Jolly Rogers”.

The F-35C sustained engine damage during the accident when debris from the aerial refueling drogue being trailed by the F/A-18F Super Hornet serving as the tanker aircraft became ingested into the F-35C’s engine. There were no injuries and an official investigation is pending according to U.S. Navy sources.

The damage to the F-35C was categorized as a “Class A Mishap”, the most extensive level of damage for a military aircraft. Class A mishaps occur when an aircraft is completely destroyed, involves a serious injury or fatality or the aircraft itself sustains more than $2 million in damage. If the F-35C’s engine, a Pratt & Whitney F135 jet engine, the most powerful and advanced in its class, were destroyed in the accident it could cost as much as $14 million to replace it not including any additional damage to the aircraft’s airframe or avionics.

Damage to the F/A-18F Super Hornet was reported to be less severe and categorized as a “Class C” mishap with no injuries and damage reported to be between $50,000 and $500,000 USD according to Commander Dave Hecht.

The two aircraft involved in the accident were operating over the Atlantic and from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as part of an integrated air wing test. The series of tests at sea are a realistic simulation, test and training exercise of how the new Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter naval variant will interface with other combat and support aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Dale Horan told reporters on board the USS Abraham Lincoln last week that the operations underway were validating how the F-35C, “Integrates with the ship, how it interoperates with communications, data links, other aircraft, and then how we conduct the mission and tie into the other aircraft that are conducting that mission and how effective they are when they do it.” Rear Admiral Horan is the director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration for the Navy.

Two U.S. Navy units are operating the new F-35C Lightning II from the USS Abraham Lincoln during the exercise, VFA-125, the “Rough Raiders” from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California and VFA-147, the “Argonauts” also from NSA Lemoore.

Prior to today’s accident the U.S. Navy forecasted that the F-35C would achieve initial operational capability (IOC) sometime in February of 2019. In order to achieve that level of operational readiness the Navy will have to demonstrate the ability to successfully operate ten F-35Cs at sea, including all support and logistical operations to maintain F-35C operations.

Of the three U.S. forces operating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the USAF with the F-35A, the U.S. Marines with the F-35B STOVL variant and the U.S. Navy with the wider-wingspan F-35C model, the U.S. Navy has been the last to enter the IOC phase of operations. Some analysts suggest this is partially because of the demands placed on the Navy’s F-35C by catapult launches and arrested landings on Navy aircraft carriers.

Top Image: The accident was the first Class A mishap for a U.S. Navy F-35C Lighting II. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

F-35 Achieves Milestones Amid Setbacks And Criticism

Joint Strike Fighter is Still a Lightning Rod of Criticism, But Progress Continues.

Photos and Video by Lance Riegle unless otherwise stated. Story by Tom Demerly and David Cenciotti.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program reached several developmental milestones in August 2018 despite ongoing criticism of the program’s costs and reported technical concerns. As the effort to integrate the weapons system into participating air forces accelerates, the obstacles and challenges faced by the F-35 begin to appear more economic and political, and less practical and technical.

The airplane is beginning to work mostly as advertised, with the U.S. Air Force leading the integration into the force structure within the United States. The Navy and Marines continue to resolve technical challenges as their F-35 integration progresses, even though a recent POGO investigation has exposed that “program officials are recategorizing – rather than fixing – some of the aircraft’s design flaws, likely in an attempt to keep the from blowing through another deadline and budget cap.”

The U.S. Air Force is currently investigating the cause of last week’s nose gear collapse at Eglin Air Foce Base, while the Navy has begun to moderate the causes of the nose wheel oscillating vertically during catapult launches at some aircraft weights. The Navy is also working to resolve a helmet visibility problem that compromises the pilot’s view of aircraft carrier’s landing light systems at night. Until the solution is achieved for the F-35C, night landings at sea are restricted to experienced pilots. The Marines have asked for special lightning rods to prevent their recently deployed aircraft from being struck by lightning on the ground, a problem that could damage aircraft electronics. Some foreign F-35 operators will have the ability to block the F-35’s systems from sending data back to the U.S. through the Sovereign Data Management (SDM) system. This will create a sort-of operational security firewall for the much criticised Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS).

Perhaps the most adversarial environment for the F-35 is not denied airspace over Syria or Iran. The real high-threat environment for F-35 seems to be the no-rules, asymmetrical battlespace of social media.

In the late 1950s and ‘60s when the North American F-100 Super Sabre and Republic F-105 Thunderchief multi-role combat aircraft were in development major accidents were frequent. During the early testing and integration of the first production supersonic fighter, the F-100 Super Sabre, one aircraft was lost or damaged nearly every three days. The F-100’s own chief test pilot, North American’s George Welch, died in a 1954 crash.

Nearly half of the Republic F-105s were lost by the end of the Vietnam conflict, most to enemy action, but some in accidents before the aircraft ever deployed. Some of the F-105 accidents were high profile even before social media. One F-105 broke in two during use by the Air Force Thunderbirds. Another F-105 crashed in a Las Vegas neighborhood on May 13, 1964, killing three children and a woman on the ground along with the pilot. Eight houses burned in the crash. The F-105 was grounded pending safety investigations that revealed several dangerous problems that were subsequently repaired.

Acknowledging that the F-100 and F-105, along with the F-104 Starfighter, were among the first to fly at supersonic speeds, their technological progression from the previous generation aircraft, the P-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre, could be regarded as similar to the differences between modern F-15s and F-16s and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

While there are ongoing problems with the F-35, these could be characterized as lesser than the potential context of the entire program and the arc of advancement in its key technologies. A primary challenge facing the overall F-35 program is not the technology of the aircraft itself, but the inability of the public to grasp what the F-35 actually will do. It is like trying to convince the owner of a $40 rotary telephone that a $700 iPhone is worth the upgrade, especially when they learn the battery can die and render the phone inoperable.

Integrating the F-35 into a modern and evolving battlespace has been as much a public affairs and perception challenge in the social media age as the technical challenges the program faces.

The debate between F-35 supporters and critics escalated in July 2015, when War Is Boring obtained a brief that claimed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.

TheAviationist.com researched and debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of each F-35 variant to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of some of the most famous fourth-generation fighters. Our analysis also also made a strong case that there is probably no way a JSF will ever match a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat. Our editors also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by War Is Boring involved one of the very first F-35 test aircraft that lacked more recent upgrades in currently fielded F-35s.

In March 2016, we published an article written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, an experienced Royal Norwegian Air Force tactical pilot with more than 2,200 hours in the F-16. Major Dolby is also a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate and the first Norwegian pilot to fly the F-35. In that post “Dolby” provided a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the controversial F-35 looked like to a pilot who had a significant experience in the F-16 along with formal experience as a flight test and analysis pilot.

A 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II is towed to its airshow display location. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

At the first Red Flag combat simulation exercise the F-35 participated in during early 2017 reports claimed the aircraft achieved a “15 to 1” kill ratio. But one noted journalist, Tyler Rogoway of “The Warzone”, wrote:

“The 15:1 kill ratio in particular is nebulous, because it seems this may be skewed in terms of what data it actually includes. Kill ratios attributed to a platform naturally make us think of direct engagements with enemy aircraft, but Red Flag is a highly integrated air battle, one that always uses the latest data-link fusing gateways and other force-multipliers. It remains unclear whether the stated kill ratio is strictly attributable to the F-35, or if it includes the actions of other coalition aircraft, particularly F-22s, while the F-35 is merely present.”

Rogoway’s insight into the “15 to 1 kill ratio” highlights the traditional air combat paradigm that, if a missile didn’t fly off an aircraft’s wing, that aircraft didn’t score the kill. But the F-35 doesn’t work that way. A key F-35 technology is sensor fusion. Sensor fusion is pulling in targeting data from sensors on other platforms such as surveillance aircraft or shipborne surface radars. The F-35 can then “hand-off” targets to other weapons platforms, effectively scoring a kill that would not have otherwise happened, but without firing a shot itself.

This is what TheAviationist.com’s Chief Editor David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Well, after eight days “at war”, in spite of being “just” IOC (Initial Operational Capable – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be an “invaluable asset” during Red Flag 17-01, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada: its ability to gather, fuse, and distribute more information than any other fighter in history provide the pilot with vital situational awareness that can be exploited to escape (and engage?) highly sophisticated and lethal enemy ground threats and interceptors.

Actually, the extent of the F-22 Raptors contribution to the above mentioned kill ratio is not clear: the F-35s are flying alongside Raptors and, as one might expect, the F-22s take care of the aggressors whilst the F-35s slip undetected through the surface-to-air defenses until it reaches the position to drop munitions at the target.

Considered that the F-22s are providing air cover to the Lightning IIs, is the 15:1 score a team result or the actual kill ratio of the F-35A?

There’s been much debate about the kill ratio of the F-35 made public after air-to-air engagements against other aircraft (namely the F-15E during a similated deployment last year).

In other (F-35) news…

Diplomatic wrangling surrounding the program has created the most sensational turbulence, and one significant stall in the case of the delayed Turkish program deliveries. The first Turkish pilot to fly an F-35A Lightning II, Major Halit Oktay, flew the aircraft at Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona on August 28, 2018. The Turkish news outlet “Daily Sabah” reported the flight on Wednesday.

A report also surfaced this week that the U.S. was trying to convince Turkey to “Give Up S-400s and Get F-35s” according to a headline on the HurriyetDailyNews.com Turkish news outlet. The U.S. has voiced security concerns about Turkey employing both Russian designed S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. The concerns have resulted in a delay in providing F-35As to Turkey even as the U.S. continues to train Turkish F-35 pilots at Luke AFB. The S-400 missile system is claimed to have “anti-stealth” capabilities that could pose a threat to the F-35. U.S. lawmakers are concerned that one country using both weapons systems may compromise the security of some aspects of the F-35 program.

The U.S. Navy also achieved an F-35 milestone this week when the first F-35C integrated flight operations were conducted from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). It was the first time U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning IIs operated as an integrated part of a carrier-launched strike package. F-35Cs from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the “Rough Raiders”, from Naval Air Station Lemoore conducted their Operational Test-1 (OT-1) with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 and Carrier Strike Group 12 aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The unique, wide-winged Navy F-35Cs flew in coordination with F/A-18s and other aircraft while integrating with a navy air wing conducting cyclic missions.

180820-N-FK070-2050
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 20, 2018) An F-35C Lightning II from the Rough Raiders of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Released)

The Italian Air Force, quite “shy” about its most advanced aircraft, is sending one of their F-35As to take part in the first European airshow at Belgian Kleine-Brogel Air Base on Sept. 8-9.

Other upcoming milestones in the F-35 program will include the first flights of the British F-35s from their new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, scheduled for early next year off the U.S. coast. The tests will initially use U.S. aircraft but likely be flown by British pilots. Meanwhile, the British have carried out the first trials out of Edwards Air Force Base, California, carrying UK-built ASRAAM missiles.

On the other side, it’s a bit of a mystery why the F-35 that have arrived to the UK haven’t flown in over a month as reported by Aviation Week. According to the MoD this was caused by maintenance checks as well as personnel leave and will have no impact on achieving the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in December…

While the F-35 program has received valid criticism over its cost the program is showing signs of providing economic returns. Lockheed Martin stock has climbed from $122.42 per share five years ago to its Wednesday close of $321.29. The stock has lead the defense financial sector with a five year increase of 89.63% while returning a dividend yield of 2.5%. Lockheed Martin also honored a commitment to hire 1,800 new employees for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program.

The recent milestones in the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program are important to consider set the against the backdrop of publicized problems within the program. While many of the concerns facing the F-35 development are valid and significant, according to all the analysts and pilots we have talked to, they could be characterized as “the new normal” for a program as vast as the Joint Strike Fighter. For this reason, as long as the current trend of developmental advances in the program begin to outpace the ongoing concerns over costs and technical evolution, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will likely emerge as a net gain in a technical space where there is no second place.